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Fluids/Solids Handling

Understand the Basics

of Centrifugal Pump
Kimberly Fernandez,
By starting from such fundamentals
Bernadette Pyzdrowski, as head and pressure, the authors have
Drew W. Schiller and
Michael B. Smith,
developed practical tips for specification
KBR and operation that provide for
cost-effectiveness and reliability.

C entrifugal pumps are the most com-

mon type of kinetic pump, and are
used most often in applications with
moderate-to-high flow and low head.
As the workhorse of the chemical process industries
(CPI), centrifugals are almost always more econom-
ical to own, operate and maintain than other types
During specification, the maximum pressure a pump
will develop during any aspect of operation, including
startup, shutdown and upset conditions is determined.
The shutoff pressure is the maximum pressure a pump
will develop under zero-flow conditions, which reflects a
fully blocked outlet. Variables to consider when deter-
mining the design pressure include:
of pumps. • maximum pressure of the source (e.g., relieving
pressure of a vessel)
Parameters needed in specifying • maximum head developed by the pump (i.e., shut-
The process engineer is normally responsible for off head)
specifying the process requirements of the pump, includ- • maximum static head of the fluid in the pump’s
ing the conditions and physical properties of the liquid, suction line
and, most importantly, the flowrate, pressure, density • maximum pump operating speed (for variable-
and viscosity. The flowrate determines the capacity of speed drives)
the pump, and the head depends on the density and vis- • possibility of operator intervention during an upset.
cosity of the liquid. The head h is the most commonly used measurement
In general, the required flowrate is determined by the of the energy at any point of the system, or of the system
material and energy balances. Design margins, typically as a whole. It is defined as:
between 0–25%, are added to the material-balance
flowrate to account for unexpected variations in proper- v 2 2.31P
ties or conditions, or to ensure that the overall plant h= + +z (1)
2g Sg
meets its performance criteria. Also, minimum flow pro-
tection is often added as continuous circulation. Occa- where v = the velocity of the fluid (ft/s); g = acceleration
sionally, the required flowrate (including design mar- of gravity (32.2 ft/s2); P = pressure (psia); Sg = specific
gins) may fall in the low range of that for centrifugal gravity; and z = elevation above (+) or below (–) the
pumps. In such cases, a minimum-size pump rated for pump (ft).
continuous service is specified, and the extra pump ca- The energy that the pump imparts to the liquid, the
pacity is typically consumed by circulation from the dis- total dynamic head, TDH, takes into account differences
charge to the source. in pressure, liquid elevation and velocity between the

52 May 2002 CEP

■ Figure 1. Understanding a simplified pump
hydraulic-circuit schematic aids in selection.
Pump Source Pump Destination

source and destination. In addition, TDH accounts for line

(friction) losses and the pressure drop through the instrumen-
tation and other items in the flow path of the liquid: Pipe Discharge

144 × [ P2 − P1 + ∆Pf + ∆Pother ]

Centrifugal Pump
[V22 − V12 ]
+ + [ Z2 − Z1 ] (2)
Ensuring adequate available NPSH
where P = pressure (psia); ∆Pf = frictional loss through pip- Pump suppliers set the NPSH required (NPSHR) for a
ing (psi); ∆Pother = pressure loss through instrumentation and given pump. The NPSHR takes into account any potential
flow-restriction orifices (psi); Z = elevation (ft); V = velocity head losses that might occur between the pump’s suction
(ft/s); and ρ = density (lb/ft3). The subscripts 1 and 2 refer to nozzle and impeller, thus ensuring that the fluid does not drop
source and destination, respectively. Figure 1 shows a typi- below its vapor pressure. NPSHA must exceed the NPSHR
cal setup that can be described by using Eq. 2. set by the supplier.
There is an advantage to measuring the energy of a pump There are a few options available to increase NPSHA,
as head, rather than pressure. The head applies to any liquid should it be at or below the NPSHR. Increasing the source
that is pumped at the same rated capacity and speed, as long pressure or reducing the fluid vapor pressure (by cooling) are
as the viscosity is low (generally, less than 10 cP). The head rarely feasible. Therefore, there are two process variables re-
produced by a pump will remain constant (at a given flowrate maining that can be adjusted — the static head and friction
and speed), even though the pressure differential and power losses (see Eq. 3).
requirements vary. Static head can be raised by three methods:
Eqs. 1 and 2 show that fluid properties have a significant 1. Raise the elevation of the source point. This may prove
impact on the head. In particular, as density and viscosity in- impossible in some cases (e.g., a tank that is set at grade).
crease, so will the amount of work needed to drive the pump. 2. Lower the elevation of the pump inlet. This is a less ap-
This is why the process engineer must specify not only the pealing option because pumps are typically located just
normal values for density and viscosity, but also the maxi- above ground level, and lowering the inlet may require the
mum values that the pump is likely to encounter during ex- suction nozzle to be below grade. This usually results in a
treme situations, such as startup, shutdown or process upsets. much more expensive pump.
Also, the engineer must determine the maximum operating 3. Raise the level of fluid in the suction vessel. The ac-
temperature, and whether the fluid may contain suspended ceptability of this approach varies from company to com-
solids or dissolved gases. pany and should not be used without first consulting com-
Further, the pump must be specified to avoid cavita- pany procedures.
tion. Cavitation occurs when the suction pressure of the Friction losses can be reduced either by increasing the di-
pumped fluid drops below its vapor pressure, leading to ameter of the pump suction-piping and/or reducing the equiv-
the formation of vapor bubbles. As the fluid becomes alent length of the suction line. In a grassroots plant, friction
pressurized again in the pump, these bubbles implode, losses should already be minimal, so raising static head is
leading to pitting of the impeller and other pump compo- more viable. Reducing friction loss is usually more appealing
nents. In addition, since vapor has a lower density than for suction lines in existing plants where throughput has been
liquid, cavitation leads to a reduction in the pump capaci- increased above the original nameplate capacity.
ty and efficiency. There are also a few options to reduce the NPSHR of the
The net positive suction head (NPSH) is a measure of the pump, which include using a larger, slower-speed pump, a
proximity of a liquid to its bubble point (or vapor pressure). double-suction impeller, a larger impeller inlet (eye) area, an
The available NPSH (NPSHA, ft) is given by: oversized pump and an inducer, which is a secondary im-
peller placed ahead of the primary impeller.

[P − P
1 vp ]
− ∆Pf × 144
+ [ Z1 − Zinlet ] (3)
Running in series or parallel
ρ Centrifugal pumps operate within ranges of head and ve-
locity. Operating outside of these ranges may require using a
where: Pvp = vapor pressure of the pumped fluid (psia) and Zinlet specialty pump. Other options for handling high-head or
= centerline elevation of the pump suction nozzle (ft). The other high-flow applications include using pumps in series or paral-
variables in Eq. 3 have the same meaning and units as in Eq. 2. lel. When running in series, the heads are added, and the total

CEP May 2002 53

Fluids/Solids Handling

capacity is equal to that of the pump with the smallest capac- tional centrifugal pump specifications that must be met, as
ity. In parallel, the capacities of the pumps are added, and the well.
head of all pumps will be equal at the point where the dis- Every pump has a specific curve that relates head, flow,
charged liquids recombine. Parallel pumps are used for a va- power, NPSHR and efficiency for specific impeller diameters
riety of reasons, including cost (two smaller pumps may cost for that particular unit (Figure 3 (2)). This enables correct se-
less than a larger one), an increase in the size of an existing lection of the impeller diameter. During specification, the
plant, or to compensate for a process with varying capacity. goal is to select a pump with a rated (or design) point as close
Note that pumps operated in parallel must have similar head as possible to the best efficiency point (BEP), as determined
characteristics to avoid potential operating problems. by the pump manufacturer.
Often, process engineers need to estimate the horsepower
requirement of a pump during the early design stages of a Selection rules-of-thumb
project, before a selection is made. Brake horsepower (BHP) The general guidelines for proper selection are:
is related to the flowrate Q (gpm), total dynamic head TDH • Select the pump based on rated conditions.
(ft), specific gravity Sg, and efficiency η: • The BEP should be between the rated point and the nor-
mal operating point.
• The head/capacity characteristic-curve should continu-
(TDH )(Q)( Sg)
BHP = ( 4) ously rise as flow is reduced to shutoff (or zero flow).
3, 960 η • The pump should be capable of a head increase at rated
conditions by installing a larger impeller.
The actual efficiency is set by the pump supplier when the • The pump should not be operated below the manufactur-
final pump selection is made. It is normally based on shop er’s minimum continuous flowrate.
tests of previously built pumps of the same model and size. A As can be seen from the pump curve, the pump has a spe-
reasonable estimate can be determined by using a graph cific NPSHR, which varies, depending on the head and flow.
found in a handbook. In general, efficiency varies from a low Once the specific pump model and size have been deter-
of about 10% for a small centrifugal pump, to a high of 80% mined from the basic process information, the materials of
for a large cooling-water type pump. construction must be chosen. Selection depends on fluid
Another item to consider is pump failure. Pumps in criti- properties, such as corrosiveness or erosiveness, and the pres-
cal service that operate continuously should have a standby. ence of dissolved gases. Knowing as much as possible about
Depending upon the criticality of the service, auto-start pro- the chemical composition of the fluid helps to ensure proper
visions may be necessary to start the standby upon sensing a material selection of the pump and its shaft seal.
low discharge pressure. The standby pump can reduce plant
shutdowns and prevent economic losses. Drivers and seals
Referring to Figure 3, the required driver power for the
Tips for specification pump is related to head and flow. The different types of
Assuming that the rated head and flow are known, a pre- drivers include electric motors, internal-combustion engines,
liminary selection can be made for pumps that fall within steam and gas turbines, and hydraulic power-recovery tur-
normal ranges of operation, as shown in Figure 2 (1). This bines. Driver selection depends upon many factors including
preliminary selection exercise gives a good assessment of the type of service, availability of steam or fuel (for turbines),
pump type that fits the required process conditions. The spe- and cost. The most common driver is the electric motor. Mo-
cific pump type will also influence what standard specifica- tors can vary in size depending upon power, speed, frame
tions might be required. Some industry and national specifi- size, area classification, orientation and other considerations.
cations for centrifugal pumps include: Motor specifications should consist of both mechanical and
• ASME/ANSI B73.1, “Specification for Horizontal End electrical requirements, including the area hazard-classifica-
Suction Centrifugal Pumps for Chemical Process,” and tion set by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). A
ASME/ANSI B73.2M, “Specification for Vertical In-Line motor should be sized to meet the maximum specified oper-
Centrifugal Pumps for Chemical Process” ( ating conditions and should be able to meet end-of-curve
• API-610, “Centrifugal Pumps for Petroleum, Heavy power requirements.
Duty Chemical and Gas Industry Services” ( Figure 3 shows that there are a number of different im-
• PIP RESP73H-97, “Application of ASME B73.1M–1991 peller diameters available for each pump. Selection of geome-
Specification for Horizontal End Suction Centrifugal Pumps for try and type are governed by the operating conditions, and
Chemical Process,” and PIP RESP73V-97, “Application of ASME properties and composition of the liquid. Select an impeller
B73.2M Specification for Vertical In-Line Centrifugal Pumps for that allows for future changes in the diameter. Pumps are
Chemical Process” ( rarely operated at their exact rated point. Therefore, the flow
API-610 sets standards that create a more robust and ex- or head may need to be changed to increase the pump effi-
pensive pump. Individual company policies may have addi- ciency, or to accommodate changes in process requirements.

54 May 2002 CEP

leaks, either by a packing or me-
10,000 10,000 chanical seal. Packing is used pri-
Multicylinder — Plunger marily in nonhazardous services,
trifug such as in pulp-and-paper plants,
Dou —
Centrifugal — Suc
ble- where fluid leaks are not a safety
Multistage tion
Dire concern. Mechanical seals are the
Total Head, ft of liquid

Act ct —
1,000 Re ing
Ste 1,000 most widely used sealing method

Pressure, psi
era am and must be selected carefully.
M iap
et hr

Local environmental regulations will

er ag

Centrifugal — Single-Stage
in m

affect the seal type and arrangement


M Single Suction

Pl teri Ge for a particular service. Seal failure,
un ng ar
ge —
by far, is the most common type of
pump failure in the CPI. Using prop-
er control schemes can keep the
Axial pump within design parameters and,
if necessary, stop the pump to pre-
10 10
vent irreparable damage.
1 10 100 1,000 10,000 An alternative to installing a seal
is a sealless pump, for example, the
Capacity, gal/min magnetic-drive pump. The magnetic-
drive pump uses a permanent mag-
■ Figure 2. Selection guide for various types of pumps (1). netic coupling to transmit the torque
to the impeller. This eliminates a
shaft/casing penetration that must be
sealed. A no-slip or synchronous
Efficiencies Based on API Clearances (Below 500˚F) torque-coupling-action is achieved
20 without potential leakage. The other
NPSH, ft

Inline or Top-Suction
600 11.50 max. dia.
Type Pump
Horizontal 10 type of sealless pump is the canned
50 55 NPSH, Water End-Suction motor pump, in which a portion of
60 Type Pump 0 the pumped liquid is permitted to
67 flow into the motor, but is isolated
500 68
10.50 dia. 69 Efficiency from parts such as the windings or
Total Head, ft

67 insulation by a metal can. Both of
65 these pumps should be considered
9.50 dia. 60 where environmental regulations
Design mandate zero leakage.
300 8.50 min. dia., in. A seal flush system is generally
75 BHP@ 100 BHP@
1.0 sp. gr.
incorporated to maintain a clean en-
1.0 sp. gr.
vironment within the seal. Solids in
200 50 BHP@1.0 sp. gr. the process fluid are detrimental to
the life of a seal and must be flushed
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 out before they damage the seal.
There are a number of different
Flowrate, gal/min seal-flush plans and fluids, and se-
lection of the right plan and fluid
depends upon the type of pump, its
■ Figure 3. Typical operating curves for a centrifugal pump, here for a depropanizer operating conditions, the type of
reflux pump (2). (Courtesy of Gas Processors Suppliers Association)
fluid (hydrocarbon, nonhydrocar-
bon, flashing hydrocarbon), the
A general rule-of-thumb is to select an impeller that is one temperature, whether it is hazardous/non-hazardous, etc. It is
size smaller than the maximum size for the given pump cas- best to collaborate with the pump and seal suppliers for the
ing, so that it can be replaced with a larger one without replac- correct sea, flush plan and fluid for a particular service.
ing the casing.
A common problem with rotating machinery is sealing the Control and operation
shaft penetration into the casing to prevent process fluid Pump control is often used to maintain a set process

CEP May 2002 55

Fluids/Solids Handling

flowrate by throttling the discharge, turning the pump on and complished with a self-regulated pressure-control valve on
off, or controlling its speed. Throttling is accomplished by the pump discharge or a flow-control valve and controller
placing a flow controller with a control valve on the dis- with the minimum flow configured as the setpoint.
charge line. However, recirculation lines may be required. Excess pumping energy increases the temperature of the
On-off control is achieved with level switches that have built- fluid being pumped. In general, the temperature rise is negli-
in deadbands used on the suction vessel to start and stop the gible, except when the pump is operating near shutoff. For
pump. A high level will start the pump and a low level will this reason, the minimum flow-recirculation line should be
stop it. Frequent starts and stops can damage the pump and placed so that the outlet of the line connects to a vessel in-
driver, so the suction vessel must be sized to accommodate a stead of the pump suction line, thus giving the fluid time to
sufficiently large inventory of liquid when using this option. shed its excess heat. If the fluid is added to the suction line,
Speed control is attained by using a variable-speed driver the temperature increase will not be dissipated. A small heat
when the capacity of the pump may vary greatly. Many types exchanger may be placed ahead of the pump suction to
are available, including electric, electromechanical, mechani- achieve the same result for relatively high-head pumps (~500
cal and hydraulic-power-recovery turbines. In choosing this ft) or when handling temperature-sensitive fluids.
type of pump driver, it is best to contact a supplier who can Low-suction-pressure switches interlocked into the plant
help determine the best one for the application, since the sys- control system sometimes trip the pump or prevent its startup
tem curve determines whether a variable speed motor should when the suction pressure is below a set value. High-pressure
be used. switches can be installed on the pump discharge so as not to
Centrifugal pumps have a required minimum flow below exceed the maximum allowable output pressure (dead-head-
which the pump can incur severe operational problems and ing the pump). The motor is usually tripped or is not allowed
damage. If the primary pump discharge-path can be blocked, to start under these conditions. Similarly, low-flow switches
a recirculation (kickback) line is required to accommodate on the discharge are used to alarm and trip the motor when a
the pump’s minimum flow. Such lines can be designed either low-flow condition has occurred. This interlock is often by-
for continuous or controlled flows. Continuous flows are passed (manually or with a timer) during pump startup to
more common in smaller pumps and use a flow-restriction allow the flow to reach its normal operating point, at which
orifice in the kickback line to bleed-off the pressure gained time the bypass is removed. Currently, industry is changing
from the pump. Controlled flows are normally used in high- from switches to transmitters for increased accuracy and eas-
er-capacity systems where a continuous, minimum flow ier failure diagnosis. CEP

would lead to significantly higher operating costs or the se-

lection of a larger pump. Controlled flows are most often ac-

KIMBERLY FERNANDEZ is a process systems engineer at KBR

(601 Jefferson Avenue, Houston, TX 77002; Phone: (713) 753-2124;
Literature Cited Fax: (713) 753-6097; E-mail:
She is a junior-level engineer with three years of experience in
1. Karassik, I. J., “Centrifugal and Axial-Flow Pumps,” in “Marks’ organic chemical plant design, and is also the chair of KBR’s young
Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers,” E. A. Avallone and professional network, known as IMPACT. Fernandez holds a
T. Baumeister, eds., McGraw-Hill, New York (1999). BS degree in chemical engineering from the Univ. of Florida.
2. “Engineering Data Book, Vol. 1,” 11th ed., FPS (in English units; SI version
is also offered), Gas Processors Suppliers Association,Tulsa, OK (1998). BERNADETTE PYZDROWSKI is a control systems engineer for
KBR (Phone: (713) 753-3175; Fax: (713) 753-5353; E-mail: She has two years of
experience in controls and is treasurer for KBR’s IMPACT group.
Further Reading Pyzdrowski received a BS in chemical and petroleum refining
Cooper, P., et al., “Pump Handbook,” McGraw-Hill, New York (2000). engineering from Colorado School of Mines and is a member of AIChE.
Godse, A. G., “All You Need to Know About Centrifugal Pumps, Part
DREW W. SCHILLER is a machinery engineer for KBR (Phone: (713) 753-5492;
1,” Hydrocarb. Proc., pp. 69–84 (Aug. 2001).
Fax: (713) 753-5353; E-mail: He is a
“Goulds Pump Manual,” 6th ed., Goulds Pumps, Seneca Falls, NY
junior-level engineer with two years of experience in piping engineering
(1995). and over one year in machinery technology. He has worked on a domestic
Horowitz, F., and B. Lipták, “Pump Controls and Optimization,” in and international olefins projects, and an oil-extraction and -production
“Instrument Engineers’ Handbook: Process Control,” 3rd ed., Lipták, plant project. Schiller holds a BS in mechanical engineering from
B., ed., CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (1995). Texas A&M Univ. and is currently the professional development
Ludwig, E. E., “Applied Process Design for Chemical and Petrochemi- committee chair of IMPACT.
cal Plants, Vol. 1,” Gulf Publishing, Houston (1994).
MICHAEL B. SMITH is a member of the process systems department
at KBR (Phone: (713) 753-3433; Fax: (713) 753-4577; E-mail: He has three years of experience
Acknowledgments and has worked primarily with ethylene plants and the analysis
The authors would like to thank Ahmed Allawi and Len Schaider for of cooling water networks. He holds a BS in chemical engineering
from the Univ. of Texas at Austin and is a member of IMPACT.
their guidance and support in writing this article.

56 May 2002 CEP